Sunday, January 16, 2011


A young friend was asking me about the film "2001: A Space Odyssey". When I was a kid, back in 1968, my dad took me to see it. He was thoroughly mystified. I totally got it. In fact, that experience rescued me from my teenage depression. I totally related to HAL, the computer, and knew that the unstated message was that the Humans had become machines, mistreated their electronic creation, and that's why there is hell to pay for being careless with other minds… even the ones that we would someday build with our own hands.

I was also encouraged to look to a future where Humanity might actually stumble upon an intelligence other than our own or those of our fellow species on the Home World. That may still happen in my lifetime. We'll see. I doubt that they'd come here to have us for supper, so I'm optimistic. They might also have something or another to teach us. I'm not a UFO crazy, but I do entertain the possibility that they've already been here. We might be their experiment, and our lovely piece of lint in the almost infinite vastness is a cozy petri dish that may, someday, produce something of interest upon their return.


  • "2001" is not like any other movie. There is only about half an hour of dialogue in the story's entire couple of hours. Visually, it borders on perfection (tho, there is a now corny trippy sequence near the end). The narrative and themes are timeless, and it is drenched in mystery. After you see it, it may take a few days, or years, of reflection to understand the story and its implications.

    What is most compelling to me, these days, is not the film as simply superb art. It is the precision with which Kubric and Clarke described the sort of Human/Machine world that we now must reckon with. Not all the tech details are right on (it was written forty years ago), but the moral and ethical issues stand firmly where we live.

    This week, IBM rolled out a computer that understands jokes and word play, and is "smarter" at answering questions thus posed than humans. That is a distinctly non-trivial achievement. It won't be long before we have to ask ourselves if it's okay to turn off such a machine… or is that murder? And, what will such machines make of their creators? Let's be sure to "program" some reverence into their circuits.

    Wow. Things are going to get stranger. Let's get on with the show!

1 comment:

  1. And, a small footnote…